The Dynamo of Dixter
Christopher Lloyd, the great English gardener who died on Friday, observed plants with the critical eye of an artist and then recorded his perceptions with the precision of a diarist. For more than 50 years, thus, we saw the garden as he did, which is to say with astonishing insight.
He has been compared to the mother of English gardening, Gertrude Jekyll, and its wild daughter, Vita Sackville-West, but in truth he remained a gardener for our time, not theirs.
Though deeply rooted in Great Dixter, his historic house and garden where he worked, his eye was always on the possibilities of the season ahead. After World War II, he and his mother (named, appropriately, Daisy Field and a descendant of Oliver Cromwell) developed the former topiary garden into a plantsman's delight and opened it to the public. He liked American visitors for their honest opinions of plants (and loved American plants such as sunflowers and prairie forbs), and he reveled in being mistaken for a lowly under-gardener in his threadbare clothing and worn-out boots. A bachelor and foodie who held convivial house parties, he was, in his writing as in life, opinionated, irascible and always entertaining.
Lloyd, who would have turned 85 next month, spent the last 15 years working with Fergus Garrett in continuing to experiment and alter planting schemes, famously ripping out a rose garden that architect Edwin Lutyens designed for his father 70 years earlier, and replacing it with a medley of tropical plants chosen for their foliage and hot colors.
Like Jekyll and Sackville-West, he shared his knowledge, experience and opinions in many articles, though Lloyd was by far the most prolific, writing more than 20 books, and numerous newspaper and magazine columns. He began writing a weekly column for Country Life magazine in 1963 that ended -- after an uninterrupted run of more than 40 years -- in October.
His last column, for the Guardian, ran the day after his death, which came a few days after leg surgery and a subsequent stroke. In a column Jan. 14 for another British daily, the Telegraph, he refers to the Great Dixter Charitable Trust, which was established to purchase the 60 percent of Great Dixter he doesn't own and to ensure the garden's continuation. The property dates to the mid-1400s. "I don't want the place to become a museum," he wrote. "The garden is sure to change. It has changed a lot in my time and so has the house. That's fine, so long as it is appreciated as it deserves."